It is not everyday that California fresh produce exporters seize a new market opportunity while at the same time sticking it to Iran. Pomegranate demand in Korea is growing, and this recent USDA FAS report explains why Iran's bad fortune has played a role: From the report:

In the past two years, the U.S has gained a 99 percent market share of imported pomegranates in South Korea due to a devastating freeze and consecutive bad crop years in Iran, Korea’s past top exporter. A great opportunity to secure this market has presented itself as Korean importers prefer the uniformity and consistency of U.S. pomegranates. Pomegranates are increasing in popularity and there is currently not enough supply to meet demand.

The relatively new market for pomegranates in South Korea has presented U.S. pomegranate exporters a chance to secure market share in this large and dynamic economy. Korea was the world’s 14th largest economy in 2008 with a GDP of $1.34 trillion on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis [1] . Per capita GDP (PPP was $27,600 in 2008. In 2006, 35 percent of total grocery sales came from fresh food sales, with the bulk spent on fruits and vegetables [2] . This trend has continued as Korean consumers increasingly value health and functional foods and respond well to increased mass media advertising of these products. Due to a devastating freeze and consecutive bad crop years, Iran, Korea’s top exporter of pomegranates in the past, has lost the majority market share of this commodity to U.S. exporters.

Though imported U.S. pomegranates and pomegranate products are very new to the market, there is potential to secure and expand this market. ? In 2008, The United States held a 99 percent market share of imported pomegranates in Korea valued at US$ 5.5 million; a figure that has grown to $6.9 million through November of 2009. As consumers per capita GDPs increase, more diversity of luxury health and fresh fruit products is demanded. U.S. pomegranates are perceived as fresh and high-quality.

Importers prefer U.S. fresh pomegranates because the fruit are more uniform and consistent in color, shape and size than those imported from other countries. The current 30 percent import tariff on U.S. pomegranates will be phased out immediately upon ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) concluded in April of 2007.

According to an industry source, Iran’s instable currency is also an issue for Korean importers and another reason why U.S. pomegranates have an opportunity to secure a lasting majority share of this market.

Check out the California Pomegranate Council Web site here.

A little backgrounder about pomegranates from the Purdue Hort Web site.

The pomegranate tree is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe. The fruit was used in many ways as it is today and was featured in Egyptian mythology and art, praised in the Old Testament of the Bible and in the Babylonian Talmud, and it was carried by desert caravans for the sake of its thirst-quenching juice. It traveled to central and southern India from Iran about the first century A.D. and was reported growing in Indonesia in 1416. It has been widely cultivated throughout India and drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. The most important growing regions are Egypt, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, India, Burma and Saudi Arabia. There are some commercial orchards in Israel on the coastal plain and in the Jordan Valley.

It is rather commonly planted and has become naturalized in Bermuda where it was first recorded in 1621, but only occasionally seen in the Bahamas, West Indies and warm areas of South and Central America. Many people grow it at cool altitudes in the interior of Honduras. In Mexico it is frequently planted, and it is sometimes found in gardens in Hawaii. The tree was introduced in California by Spanish settlers in 1769. It is grown for its fruit mostly in the dry zones of that state and Arizona. In California, commercial pomegranate cultivation is concentrated in Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties, with small plantings in Imperial and Riverside counties. There were 2,000 acres (810 ha) of hearing trees in these areas in the 1920's. Production declined from lack of demand in the 1930's but new plantings were made when demand increased in the 1960's.